September 2013

Quick Hits: Pence, Westbrook, Abreu, Astros

While it’s not a mistake on the level of the Barry Zito contract, the Giants could come to regret the Hunter Pence deal, writes Dave Cameron of Fangraphs. The $90MM contract won’t stop them from winning if they can surround him with quality players on undervalue contracts, but that’s obviously easier said than done. Here’s more from around baseball..

  • Jake Westbrook can read the writing on the wall and knows that his time with the Cardinals is likely over, writes Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Between his struggles and the Cards’ wealth of young pitching, Westbrook isn’t expected to be placed on the postseason roster. Westbrook isn’t certain if he will pitch in 2014 and plans to discuss with his family in the offseason.
  • Ben Badler of Baseball America spoke with international sources to identify five teams that could sign Jose Dariel Abreu.  The White Sox, Nationals, Pirates, Red Sox, and Rangers look like the frontrunners for the Cuban standout with Texas possibly having the inside track on everyone.
  • Prior to a charity event earlier today, Astros owner Jim Crane said that he plans to spend money in 2014 to help turn the club around, writes Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle. “Now we have a nucleus to draw from. And so we got that established. I think in the off-season you’ll see Jeff [Luhnow], and he’s already said it, we’re going to fill some of those holes. As the kids come up through the system we can get competitive very quick. We lost a lot of one-run games. It’s pretty obvious where our needs are, and we’ll work on those in the offseason and start loosening the purse book,” Crane said.
  • Cubs president Theo Epstein says he will look first and foremost at candidates with managerial experience, tweets Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter) notes that the Dodgers hold an option on manager Don Mattingly for 2014.  The option is worth $1.4MM, sources tell Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi.

NL East Notes: Mets, Nationals, Marlins

As the Mets look to take the next step forward in their rebuilding process, they should take a page out of the Indians' playbook, opines Joel Sherman of the New York Post.  Many suggest the Red Sox as a good example for GM Sandy Alderson & Co., but their offseason additons actually cost them about $61.5MM in 2013 alone.  Sherman believes that the Mets' payroll bump will be closer to $30MM based on conversations with multiple executives, which is just $6MM shy of what the Indians spent last winter to retool their lineup.  Here's more out of the NL East..

  • After Mike Rizzo finds the club's next skipper, the focus will be on bolstering the Nationals' pitching staff for 2014, writes MLB.com's Bill Ladson.  It looked like the Nationals would be in the market for a new third baseman because of Ryan Zimmerman's throwing troubles early in the season, but they no longer have a need there as he appears to be back on track.
  • It's no longer a given that the Nationals will go out-of-house for their next manager and people who speak regularly with team management now believe bench coach Randy Knorr also has a strong chance to get the job, writes Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com. Knorr is said to have strong support within the organization and looks to be a frontrunner along with D'Backs coach Matt Williams.
  • The Marlins have reassigned hitting coach John Pierson to the minors, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets.
  • The Marlins also relieved Mike Wickham of his duties as director of baseball operations while promoting Dan Noffsinger to the position, tweets Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald.
  • Earlier today, Steve Adams rounded up today's news on the Mets.

Mets Would Consider Re-Signing Johan Santana

The Mets are looking to bolster their rotation this winter and they may not have to dig too far into their rolodex for some help.  In an interview with WFAN today, GM Sandy Alderson said that he wouldn’t rule out bringing Johan Santana back to New York this winter.

I think that’s a possibility,” Alderson said, according to Matt Ehalt of ESPNNewYork.com. “I don’t really know what Johan’s thinking. We’ll talk to him, I’m sure, over the next couple of weeks but I think he wants to pitch. We’ll just have to see what the market is for these guys and how much of our resources we want to allocate to somebody coming off injury or somebody you hope was able to pitch for you at a higher level.

Santana is coming off of a year in which he made $25.5MM with the Mets despite not throwing a single major league pitch thanks to a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder.  There was speculation after the injury that the 34-year-old might call it a career, but he has since indicated a desire to return to baseball.  Santana spent six seasons in Queens but only pitched in four, posting a 3.18 ERA with 7.6 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9.



Rockies Notes: Weiss, Offseason, Front Office

There's been plenty of manager news today, with the Twins extending Ron Gardenhire, the Cubs firing Dale Sveum and the Mets making Terry Collins' two-year pact official. Troy Renck of the Denver Post adds to the subject matter, noting that the Rockies will address manager Walt Weiss' contract this week at their organizational meetings in Scottsdale. The issue at hand with Weiss, according to Renck, isn't whether or not he'll be back, but for how many years (Twitter link). Here's more on the Rockies…

  • Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post runs down the Rockies' biggest needs for this offseason. Colorado's top priorities will include finding another quality starter, landing a right-handed slugger, and rebuilding the shaky bullpen. When it comes to their relievers, Colorado will have a decision to make when it comes to their $4.5MM option on Matt Belisle for 2014.
  • Owner Dick Monfort doesn't anticipate any changes to the front office, according to Renck and Saunders. However, ESPN's Buster Olney hears differently and tweets that changes are on the horizon for the Rockies' brass.
  • The Rockies will have to add a couple of pieces this winter and they'll have a larger payroll to help make that happen, writes MLB.com's Thomas Harding.

Steve Adams contributed to this post.


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Phillies Notes: Coaching Staff, Ruiz, Amaro, Halladay

The Phillies have already found their manager for the next three years (or so they hope) in Ryne Sandberg, but there was more work to be done. Earlier today, the team announced that longtime pitching coach Rich Dubee will not have his contract renewed and that Paul Fournier will be the team's new Major League strength and conditioning coordinator. Fournier had served the same role in the Phils' minor league system and has also been a high-ranking conditioning coach for the Marlins and Expos. Here's some more on Phillies-related news…

  • Carlos Ruiz hopes to return to Philadelphia in 2014 and finish his career with the Phillies, writes Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. wouldn't comment as to whether or not he'd begun discussions with Ruiz's agent, Marc Kilgman, but the Phillies are known to be prioritizing catching help this offseason.
  • Amaro admitted to reporters, including MLB.com's Todd Zolecki, that he feels pressure to get the Phillies back to their winning ways.  “I always feel under the gun,” Amaro said. “I put myself under the gun. I don’t listen to a lot of it. But listen, I’m the GM of the club, so I fully expect to take heat for it. I’m the one making the decisions on player personnel. I’m accountable for the things that have happened. I didn’t have a very good year; our team didn’t have a very good year."
  • The GM went on to say that while they'd like to fill the right field hole with a quality right-handed hitter, they could go out and get a left-handed batter instead if that's what's out there.  Amaro doesn't feel Darin Ruf is an everyday option in right field.
  • Amaro reiterated his desire to see Roy Halladay back with the Phillies but before the two sides can try and work out a risk-controlled deal, the pitcher may want to see if the Phillies will be in a position to contend before re-signing.
  • Because of missteps in player evaluations in recent years, Amaro says that they will "build more analytics" into the gameplan going forward, Zolecki writes.  

Steve Adams contributed to this post.


Free Agent Profile: Mike Napoli

A three-year, $39MM guarantee with the Red Sox for slugger Mike Napoli was renegotiated all the way down to a one-year, $5MM contract in the course of about two months during the offseason, as a physical revealed he has avascular necrosis (AVN) in both hips.  The degenerative condition, which came as a surprise to Napoli, was caught early and has not affected his play to date.  Napoli avoided the DL this year, earning $8MM in incentives to bring his 2013 earnings to the same $13MM average annual value from his original three-year contract.  Now, he's eligible to return to the free agent market coming off a fine season.

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Strengths/Pros

Napoli is one of the top sluggers on the free agent market, as he leads all qualified free agents in isolated power.  He's tied for sixth among all free agents with 23 home runs and is fourth in slugging at .482, assuming Adam Lind's option is picked up.  Napoli is one of just ten players to hit at least 20 home runs in each of the 2008-13 seasons.  

A right-handed hitter, Napoli's on-base percentage is boosted by a strong career walk rate of 12%.  This year, his .360 OBP ranks third among qualified free agents.  If you're looking for offense from a right-handed hitter, Napoli is one of the best 15 bats in the game right now.

We don't take much stock in RBI here at MLBTR, but it may help Napoli's bargaining position that he ranks second among free agents with 92 knocked in.  The player ranked above him, Robinson Cano, will require a much larger commitment.

Formerly a catcher, Napoli proved this year he can play an acceptable first base, logging nearly 1,100 innings at the position with strong grades from UZR/150 (+13.3) and The Fielding Bible (+10).

Napoli comes with a reputation as a winner, as this year will mark his sixth postseason out of eight total seasons.  He was a big performer for the Rangers in 2011, driving in 15 runs in 17 games.

Weaknesses/Cons

While Napoli's AVN has not affected his play or caused him to miss time to date, the Red Sox were concerned enough about the condition to reduce their offer to one guaranteed year at less than 40% of the original salary.  Napoli was back on the open market during the seven-plus weeks his contract was being renegotiated, and while agent Brian Grieper praised his client for his loyalty, it's likely other interested teams shared Boston's concern and didn't offer significantly more.

Napoli has proven his health to the extent possible this year by setting a career best in plate appearances with 578 in the regular season.  It's difficult to project his playing time in the future, however, since he was previously a catcher and has now been diagnosed with AVN.  Napoli had more than his fair share of separate injuries, with 53 DL days in '07, 32 in '08, 22 in '11, and 35 in '12.  These injuries, involving his ankle, hamstring, shoulder, oblique, and quad, may have been related to time spent at catcher, but his history dates back to the minors.  Any team considering a multiyear offer has to take the entire injury history into account.

Napoli struck out in 32.4% of his plate appearances this year, worst among all qualified free agents.  Mark Reynolds and Marlon Byrd are the only other two to even top 20%.  Napoli's strikeouts, which have increased in the past two years, are a big reason why he's hitting .246 since 2012.  Given his walk rate, it still makes for a strong OBP, but if he bats .240 and walks dip to his 2009-10 level, his OBP will no longer be an asset.  Additionally, as you would expect from a former catcher, Napoli's baserunning is below average.

I mentioned earlier that Napoli leads all free agents in isolated power, but his .223 mark is actually his worst since 2009.  Given his previous production and career high in plate appearances, I would have expected Napoli to have over 30 home runs at this point rather than 23.

The Rangers chose not to tender Napoli a $13.3MM qualifying offer after the 2012 season, but with a healthier campign and their recent preference for short-term deals, the Red Sox are likely to make the $14MM qualifying offer five days after the World Series ends.  Napoli is the type of player the system hurts the most: one who is good but not great, and doesn't have the youth of a B.J. Upton.  With the cost of a first or even second round draft pick, a few teams could lose interest in Napoli.

Personal

Mike resides in Pembroke Pines, Florida.  He values time with his family, and even has his mother's name, Donna Rose, tattooed on his arm.  Mike is a big fan of the NFL and college football, particularly the University of Miami.

Market

It would be reasonable for the Red Sox to try to bring Napoli back, and a qualifying offer or the threat of one gives them some leverage.  We've seen them tangle with David Ortiz in this type of situation, with Ortiz accepting arbitration after the 2011 season and getting a two-year deal done last November with a qualifying offer in hand, before hitting the open market.  The Red Sox were willing to offer Napoli three years and $39MM to sign him off the open market last winter before the AVN revelation, but they honed in on him, Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, and Stephen Drew in part they would not cost a draft pick.  The Sox liked the two-year, $26MM price enough on Ortiz to forgo the chance at draft pick compensation for him, and I wonder if two years might be their limit on Napoli.  On the other hand, they don't have much in the way of alternatives.

Draft pick compensation will affect Napoli on the open market if he turns down a qualifying offer from the Red Sox.  Still, teams like the Twins, Rockies, and Mets, with protected first round draft picks and openings at first base, seem like good fits.  Napoli has the advantage of a very weak free agent market for first basemen.  Kendrys Morales is more of a DH, and could be dragging around a qualifying offer as well.  Otherwise the options are Corey Hart, James Loney, Justin Morneau, Mike Morse, Mark Reynolds, Kevin Youkilis, and Paul Konerko.  As one commenter notes below, the wild card in the first base market is Jose Dariel Abreu, the Cuban slugger in whom the Red Sox may have interest.

Expected Contract

I think a qualifying offer can knock a year off a player's contract, as it seemingly did with Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, so two years and $28MM is the floor for Napoli.  Ultimately I predict Napoli will land a three-year, $42MM deal.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Rangers Designate Joey Butler For Assignment

The Rangers have reinstated Nelson Cruz from the restricted list following his Biogenesis suspension and designated fellow outfielder Joey Butler for assignment in order to create room on the 40-man roster, according to executive vice president of communications John Blake (on Twitter). Cruz will be back in the lineup for tonight's Game 163 tiebreaker between the Rangers and Rays, batting sixth and starting at designated hitter.

The 27-year-old Butler made his big league debut for the Rangers this season, collecting 15 plate appearances and recording four hits. Drafted by the Rangers out of the Universtiy of New Orleans in the 15th round back in 2008, Butler is a career .300/.392/.468 hitter in 1,563 Triple-A plate appearances.

Butler is the second player to be designated for assignment for the purposes of reinstating a suspended player, as the Padres also designated Chris Robinson for assignment earlier today to clear room for Everth Cabrera. Both situations can be monitored in MLBTR's DFA Tracker.


Minor Moves: White Sox, Royals

Here are today's minor moves from around the league…


MLB Names Rob Manfred Chief Operating Officer

Major League Baseball executive vice president Rob Manfred has been named the league's chief operating officer, according to Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal (on Twitter). Major League Baseball has officially announced that commissioner Bud Selig appointed Manfred to the position (Twitter link), leading many to speculate that Manfred is being groomed as his successor. Selig officially announced last week that he would retire following the 2014 season.

Manfred had been serving as one of five EVPs for Major League Baseball, dealing specifically with labor relations and human resources. Until this point, he has been responsible for the relationship between Major League Baseball's teams and the MLBPA. Manfred graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1983 and has been an integral cog in negotiating baseball's collective bargaining agreement. More information on his background can be found in his MLB.com biography.


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Padres Designate Chris Robinson For Assignment

The Padres have issued a press release announcing that suspended shortstop Everth Cabrera has been reinstated, and catcher Chris Robinson has been designated for assignment in order to clear room on the 40-man roster.

Robinson, 29, saw his only taste of big league action this season and made it memorable, going 2-for-12 but blasting three-run homer for his first career hit on Sept. 25. The Friars acquired Robinson from the Orioles in exchange for cash considerations in late June and saw the former third-round pick go on to bat .316/.338/.353 in 142 plate appearances at Triple-A Tucson.

Originally selected bu the Tigers in the 2005 draft, the Canadian backstop is a career .286/.321/.364 hitter in 1,280 plate appearances at the Triple-A level. Like all players who have been designated for assignment, Robinson's status can be monitored in MLBTR's DFA Tracker.